I have been playing the piano for roughly fifteen years now, and I can easily say that the two men who inspire me to play are Billy Joel and Elton John. As a child, my parents constantly played their songs. After hearing them on repeat for a year or so, I finally started to learn how to play these songs. My first song was “Piano Man” — which is always a crowd pleaser. At first, I was obsessed with Billy Joel. I learned many of his songs and saw him in concert five times. However, as I grew older and started to read chords — or tabs, I started learning more of Elton John’s music.
For the longest time (no pun intended), there has been a debate in the music community about which of the two piano gurus are better. Today, I’m going to try to solve that argument by using three categories of discussion: quality of music, lyric and number of hits.
Who is better at writing songs?
The first factor is quality of music — who writes and composes better? A few years ago, I found a video from an interview with Billy Joel from back in the mid-1970s. During this interview, Joel was asked about how he compares to Elton John. He said that the two simply have different piano playing styles. While he is more of a five-finger, classically trained musician — think “Vienna” or “New York State of Mind” — John is more rhythmic in his playing style.
Now, what does this specifically mean? For someone like me, who can read chords but not sheet music, John’s songs are easier to play. When learning John’s songs, there are more simple chord progressions and less of the “five-finger” stuff that Joel uses. Therefore, Elton’s music is more dynamic and doable for different kinds of pianists. For those that are proficient with complicated sheet music, Joel’s songs are definitely more fun and entertaining to play. Don’t get me wrong: I love playing “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant” every now and then. However, since John’s songs are just as good as Joel’s, but are more playable, I give him this point.
Who is the better lyricist?
It is important to look at the lyrics of each songwriter’s pieces when determining who is better. Both Joel and John have written songs that range in style lyric-wise: metaphoric, simple, ballads, etc. Therefore, it’s very hard to decide who is better.
However, many people don’t know that John doesn’t write most of his lyrics. His top songs were mostly written by lyricist Bernie Taupin. As accurately depicted in the movie “Rocketman,” Taupin would write lyrics, and then John would write music to go along. Billy Joel, on the other hand, wrote his own lyrics. Like I said, I personally feel that both of their lyrics are equally as good. There are simply large amounts of variety in each. However, since Joel wrote his own lyrics, that makes him the clear winner in my book.
Who has more hits?
The third and final component in this debate revolves around who has more top songs. There are many top charts and lists that Billboard, the Rolling Stone and other media outlets create. When it comes to being on the Top 40 list in the United States, Billy Joel had 33 songs on there at some point, whileElton John had 57. Narrowing down to the top 10 list, Billy Joel had 13 songs make it to this list. Again, John beat Joel, as he had 27 songs — nearly two times the amount. Not only does John win this category because of his many top songs, he gets extra credit because he isn’t even an American artist. The fact that John has more hits in the U.S., and he is British, means that John was more popular. Joel became quite popular in the U.S., and a little bit in other countries. However, John did a much better job at becoming a world-known musician.
Overall, Billy Joel and Elton John are both great musicians. They are the top two leaders in the piano rock industry, and choosing between them is very difficult. However, I personally think that Elton John is the better musician. As much as I love Billy Joel, and would die to see him in concert again, Elton John is the king. He is playing at Citizens Bank Park in June, and I know that the $1000 I spent on tickets will be worth it.
Ryan Levinson is a third-year Communications major with a minor in Political Science. RL923198@wcupa.edu